Kunduz - Program for Culture and Conflict Studies

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Kunduz Province

Governor: Asadullah Omarkhil

Population Estimate: 953,800

Area in Square Kilometers: 8,040

Capital: Kunduz

Districts: Ali Abad, Archi, Chahar Dara, Imam Saheb, Khan Abad, kunduz, Qalay-i-Zal.

Ethnic Groups: 33% Pashtun, 27% Uzbek, 22% Tajik, 11% Turkmen, 6% Hazara, 1% Pasahi.1

Tribal Groups: Ghilzai Pashtun, Pashai.

Religious Groups: 94% Sunni, 6% Shi'a.

Occupation of Population: Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Clothing Production, Labor, some Carpet Weaving and Business.

Crops/Livestock: Wheat, Barley, Rice, Cotton, Flax, Mung Beans, Market Fruit, Almonds, Maize, Vegetables; Sheep, Cattle, Camels.

Literacy Rate: 20%2

Total # of Educational Institutions: 2763

Primary Schools: 135

Lower Secondary Schools: 76

Higher Secondary Schools: 50

Islamic: 12

Tech/Vocational: 2

Colleges/Universities: 0

Active NGOs in the Province: MSF: Clinica support, SCA: Clinic support and well installation, CFA: School reconstruction, literacy classes and clinic upport, Concern: clinic support, UNICEF: school materials, COOPI: Returnee shelter provider, Shelter for Life, ACTED, Mercy Corps.

Transportation: Roads passable by car year round= 68%, passable by car in winter= 42%, no roads present in 4% of the province; Primary- Route 2 Kabul-Kunduz-Sher Khan Highway, Route 302 Mazar-e-Sharif-Kunduz-Feyzabad Highway, Kunduc-Khan Abad-Taluquan Road, Kunduz-Chahar Dara Road, Secondary- Imam Sahib-Archi Road, Track- Numerous, primarily surrounding cities and river extending into all neighboring provinces in rural areas.

Estimated Population with Access to Electricity: Households with access= 18%, Household with public electricity= 15%, Access in urban areas= 64%, Access in rural areas= 5%, Public access in rural areas= 2%.4

Hospitals: 1 equidistant between Kunduz City and Khan Abad.5

Clinics: 36

Sources/Availability of Drinking Water: Statistics vary regarding the availability of safe drinking water with the UNHDR of 2007 reporting lower availability than the Afghan government for the same year. Afghan Government Report: Availability of safe drinking water= 25%, in urban areas= 15%, in rural areas= 29%, population traveling to water within the community= 88%, traveling less than one hour= 9%, traveling 1-3 hours= 2%, traveling 3-6 hours= 1%. UNHDR Report: Availability of potable water= 16% (i.e. piped, tap, well, spring, rain water).6

Topographical Features: 80% of Kunduz Province is classified as flat-land with the remaining 20% being mountainous or semi-mountainous. The Kunduz River system is classified as a "Complex River System" by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Of note, it originates both in the highlands of neighboring Badakhshan and Takhar provinces and flows through Taloqan, Takhar. It also rises in the highlands of Bamyan and Baghlan provinces and flows through Pul-i-Khumri, Baghlan. From here it flows to its confluence with the Amu Dariya River north of Kunduz City.7 Most settlements and agricultural activities exist within close proximity of the river and its tributaries within the province.

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Kunduz - Content

Kunduz Provinical Review

Kunduz province is located north of Kabul and shares an international border with Tajikistan. The province also borders with Baghlan, Takhar, Balkh and Samangan provinces and covers an area of 7827 km2. Kunduz has a population around 773,387 with nearly three-quarters living in rural communities. The major ethnic groups living in Kunduz province are Pashtuns and Tajiks, followed by Uzbeks, Hazaras, and Turkmen.

Kunduz province is mainly an agricultural province with fertile lands. The main industry in the province is the manufacture of cotton in the Spinzar textile factory which is located in Kunduz city. Agriculture is a major source of revenue for 66% of households in Kunduz province, including 76% of rural households and 34% of households in the urban area. Seventy percent of rural households and 30% of urban households own or manage agricultural land or garden plots in the province. The transport infrastructure in Kunduz is reasonably well developed, with 68% of roads in the province able to take car traffic in all seasons, and 26% able to take car traffic in some seasons.

Security throughout Kunduz deteriorated in 2009. Insurgents groups such as the Taliban, the Islamic Jihad Union (Uzbek/Turkish) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have violently contested the control of several districts in Kunduz, namely Chahara Darra, Imam Sahib, and Ali Abad.

In August 2009, insurgents killed the (former) provincial governor’s brother, Col. Noor Khan, who served as the district police chief for Dashti Archi. A devastating air strike targeting two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban in early September killed over 142 people, many of whom are thought to be civilians, provoking outrage throughout Kunduz and further destabilizing the security situation there. On October 8, 2010, an unexplained explosion killed the long-time governor Engineer Mohammad Omar and 11 others during their visit to a mosque in Takhar province. A small German garrison of 670 troops occupies the Kunduz airfield and maintains the Provincial Reconstruction Team based at the airport.

In October 2016, the city was beseiged by Taliban militants attempting to retake control of its capital city, also named Kunduz. The attack was successful and led to a mass exodus of over 40,000 civilians from the city. Those who remained faced greatly increased food prices as well as threats to their safety. In the aftermath of the attack, there are reports of ISIS affiliated forces also coming into the city. As of late October 2016, the Afghan government's efforts to reclaim the city have not been successful.15

The current governor for Kunduz province is Asadullah Omarkhil, native of Kunduz province. He assumed the positon after a five-month gap, succeeding Mohammad Omar Safi, who fled to London in 2015. Before becoming the Provincial Governor, Omarkhil was a tribal elder in the province.

Taliban Shadow Governor: Mullah Abdul Salam - Salam is said to be the leader of the Taliban's assault on Kunduz City in 2015, leading to a retreat by Afghan security forces. Abdul Salam was captured in 2010, but released in 2012 when the Afghan High Peace Council urged Pakistan to release captured Taliban leaders. He returned to Kunduz in 2013 and was one of the first shadow governors to announce allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Salam was reported to have been killed multiple times, but has reemerged every time.14  


Kunduz Basic Map


Human Terrain


Gilzhai Pashtuns comprise 33% of the population of Kunduz and are the majority ethnic group in the province. They are primarily found in Imam Sahib District. The largest single ethnicity of Afghanistan, the Pashtun, and in particular the largest tribe of Said, the Ghilzai, formed the backbone of the Taliban movement. Traditionally beholden to the moral code of Pashtunwali (“the way of the Pashtun”), they can easily be deeply offended by breaches of the code and carry the grudge for generations. Several Pashtun communities were grafted into Tajik and Uzbek dominated Northern Afghanistan in the Nineteenth Century as part of the king’s ‘pashtunization’ policy. In general, Pashtuns have been slow to adapt to post-Taliban Afghanistan. At the outset of OEF, the U.S. backed Northern Alliance advance towards Kabul resulted in reported atrocities against Pashtun communities throughout northern Afghanistan. Over the course of American involvement in Afghanistan, Pashtun enclaves in Kunduz have been more susceptible to infiltration by anti-government elements than Tajik and Uzbek dominated areas. Tajiks and Uzbeks in Kunduz most recently blamed Pashtun Taliban sympathizers for most of the burning of schools in the province. Finally, the continuous state of armed conflict which has characterized Afghanistan for the past three decades has resulted in frequent displacements and subsequent land disputes between the Tajik majority and Pashtun minority in the Northern provinces. These disputes have yet to be successfully resolved and serve to fuel longstanding animosity between the Pashtun and their neighbors within Kunduz. View the Ghilzai Tribal Tree


The Uzbek people of Afghanistan are found north of the Hindu Kush in Afghan Turkistan. In Afghanistan, they number approximately 1.6 million and comprise around 27% of the population of Kunduz Province. The presence of the Uzbek people in this region was facilitated by the frequent invasion of Central Asian Turks throughout history. Uzbeks are the most populous Turkish group in Afghanistan and are recognizable by their broad, flat faces and lighter skin when compared to the Pashtuns. They are historically farmers and stockmen, breeding the karakul sheep and an excellent type of Turkman horse. Their kinsmen reside in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. Many Uzbeks fled into northern Afghanistan in the 1920s to escape the suppression when the Soviet government was trying to stamp out their customs and Moslem religion.8 Uzbek militias represent one piece of a perennially complicated security puzzle within Northern Afghanistan.


Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan after the Pashtuns and comprise between 25-30% of the population. In Kunduz, Tajiks are a significant minority ethnic group and represent 22% of the population. The Tajiks in Afghanistan tend to live in settled communities as opposed to a nomadic lifestyle. Pashtuns refer to them as Farsiwan, or speakers of Farsi, the lingua franca of Afghanistan (50% of Afghanistan speaks Farsi, as opposed to only 35% for Pashtu). Between the Tajiks and Pashtuns there has been significant animosity in recent years. Forming the backbone of the Northern Alliance, they also have a base in the nation of Tajikistan. They held out fiercely against the Taliban. Most Tajik are Sunni Muslims, but a few are Shi’a. Tajiks made up the majority of the Northern Alliance, both in terms of membership and leadership. Tribal ties have largely broken down among the Tajiks; therefore, social organization is defined primarily by geography. Despite their lack of cohesiveness the Tajiks are often brought together due to the perceived common threat posed by the Pashtuns.9 Currently, Tajik warlords vie for control of illicit opium and arms transport with competing Uzbek, and Ismaili militias throughout the Northern provinces. View the Tajik Tribal Tree


11% of the population of Kunduz is classified as ethnically Turkmen. Turkmen are another Sunni Turkic-speaking group whose language has close affinities with modern Turkish. They are of aquiline Mongoloid stock. The Afghan Turkmen population in the 1990s was estimated at around 200,000. Turkmen also reside north of the Amu Darya in Turkmenistan. The original Turkmen groups came from east of the Caspian Sea into northwestern Afghanistan at various periods, particularly after the end of the nineteenth century when the Russians moved into their territory. They established settlements from Balkh Province to Herat Province, where they are now concentrated; smaller groups settled in the northwest portions of Kunduz Province. Others came in considerable numbers as a result of the failure of the Basmachi revolts against the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.

Turkmen tribes, of which there are twelve major groups in Afghanistan, base their structure on genealogies traced through the male line. Senior members wield considerable authority. Formerly a nomadic and warlike people feared for their lightening raids on caravans, Turkmen in Afghanistan are farmer-herdsmen and important contributors to the economy. They brought karakul sheep to Afghanistan and are also renowned makers of carpets, which, with karakul pelts, are major hard currency export commodities. Turkmen jewelry is also highly prized.


In Kunduz, the Hazara comprise approximately 6% of the population. As a distinct minority ethnic and religious group within the population of Afghanistan; they have often been the target of discriminatory and violent repression. Most likely descended from the Mongols of Genghis Khan, (there is also a strong argument that they are of Eastern Turkic origin), the Hazara are noticeably different in physical appearance when compared to the Pashtun majority. In terms of religion, the vast majority of the Hazara are of the Shia Muslim faith, again in contrast to the Pashtuns who are Sunni Muslim. Due to these differences, “the Hazara have experienced discrimination at the hands of the Pashtun-dominated government throughout the history of modern Afghanistan."10 As the traditional underclass of Afghan society, Hazara were exploited and made to work as servants and laborers. As a result, there tends to be an anti-government and anti-Pashtun bias among the Hazara. In present day Afghanistan, the Hazara are divided geographically into two main groups: the Hazarajat Hazara and those who live outside the Hazarajat. The Hazarajat is located in the Hindu Kush Mountains in central Afghanistan and is “centered on Bamiyan province and include[s] areas of Ghor, Uruzgan, Wardak, and Ghazni province."11 The Hazara living outside of the Hazarajat live in and around Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif and Samangan province. Due to atrocities committed against them by the Taliban, the Hazara by and large are opposed to the Taliban. In August 1998, the Taliban massacred approximately 4,000 Hazara in Mazara-e Sharif; this massacre was followed by another the next month when the Taliban killed another 500 Hazara in Bamiyan. The Hezb-e Wahdat (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan) is an umbrella political organization which commands the support of large numbers of Hazara. The Hazara are also often at odds with the Kuchi population within the Hazarajat. View the Hazara Tribal Tree


The Pashai represent only 1% of the population of Kunduz but are present in small numbers throughout the northeast corner of Afghanistan. The term "Pashai" refers to the language itself, the people who speak it, and the area they inhabit. Pashai is spoken only in Afghanistan and Pashai speakers live in the area north of the Kabul River, extending about 160 kilometers from Gulbahar on the Panjshir River in the northwest to Chaga Serai in the east. There are two conflicting theories on the origin of the Pashai. One theory suggests that the Pashai were members of the classic Gandhara culture and that they were pushed out of their original homeland in the lowlands into the valleys of the Hindu Kush by an invasion of Pashto-speaking Afghans from the Sulaiman Mountains. Another theory, based on ethnographic evidence and the cultural similarities of all mountain people in the area postulates that all these groups, including the Pashai, share common historical roots that predate the rise of the Gandharan civilization.

Their economy is based on herding in higher elevations and agriculture in low lying areas. The major crops are rice in the lower elevations and wheat and maize in the high valleys. Walnuts, mulberries, and poppies are also grown. Goats, sheep, and cattle are the primary herding stock. In most villages, men are responsible for whatever primary economic activity predominates with women tending to lower priority economic activities. In some groups, and economic caste system exists in which endogamy is the norm although not culturally mandatory.

Kinship ties through the male blood-line dominate most social relationships. However, political affiliations may be based on either patriarchy or matrilineal descent within specific villages. Feuds may also organize themselves based on either branch of the family tree.

Leadership potential is based on honor, age, generosity, and mediation skills. Village headmen primarily serve as arbiters of disputes and village to government intermediaries as opposed to a westernized tribal chief. Rule is generally by consensus via a village council which limits its authority to agricultural issues such as water distribution. Some village councils also regulate bride-wealth, betrothal, weddings, funerals, and pay rates for laborers. Individual are responsible for enforcing their own rights and disputes that cannot be settled by village council or the mediation of a headman often result in bloody feuds between rival families.

Like the Pashtun, the prosecution of feuds is a cornerstone of Pashai culture. The key masculine values are honor, military skill, loyalty to kinship ties, ferocity towards ones enemies, and an instantaneous readiness for single combat especially in the realm of knife fighting, and proficiency with firearms. Men who fail in this regard are referred to as "Men without honor", belittled publicly, and traditionally have ashes poured on their heads as a form of public humiliation for failing to live up to their warrior credo.

Religiously, the Pashai do not revere saints and are Sunni Muslims like their Nuristani and Pashtun neighbors. Unlike the Pashtun, the Pashai do not seclude their women and females are allowed to interact freely with men.12


Political Parties

Jamiat-e Islami (Islamic Society of Afghanistan)

Led by Burhanuddin Rabbani. It is predominately a Tajik political party which was active in the anti-Soviet jihad and a major political player in the Northern Alliance. Today Rabbani supports Karzai. Yunus Qanuni’s Hezb-e Afghanistan Naween broke away from Jamiat-e Islami. The vast majority of Kunduz's District Chiefs are affiliated with Jamiat.

Shuria-e Nazar

The party was founded by Ahmed Shah Masood in an effort to offset the power of Pashtun ethnic majority in Afghanistan. The Shuria-e-Nezar group was a key player in the Afghan Civil war that followed the Anti-Soviet Jihad. After the Taliban were removed from power in 2001, this same group re-emerged in Afghan politics and has continued to seek power for their former Northern Alliance patrons. Many Afghan observers believe that groups like Shuria-e Nazar serve to alienate the Pashtun majority and inadvertently undermine U.S. anti-terror and counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan.13

Hezb-e Wahdat (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan)

Hazara umbrella organization led by Mohammad Karim Khalili. Hezb-e Wahdat is an offshoot and successor to a party of the same name that was established in 1990 when several Iran-based, Shi'a jihadi parties merged. Khalili was chosen to lead the party after the Taliban killed Abdul Ali Mazari, the head of original Wahdat party, in 1995. Khalili's drift toward an alliance with the Taliban is generally blamed for his party's factional disintegration. Khalili has served as second vice president in President Karzai's government and wields particular influence among Hazaras in central Afghanistan. His party's success or failure might be viewed as an indicator of the degree to which Hazaras believe the current government reflects their aspirations.

Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Mardum-e Afghanistan)

Led by Mohammad Mohaqeq, The Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan, like Khalili's party, is an offshoot of the original Wahdat entity formed with the merger of Iran-based, Shi'a Jihadi groups. Mohaqeq was Wahdat's main representative in northern Afghanistan once the Taliban gained control of Kabul in 1996, becoming an ally of the United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (aka the Northern Alliance). In the post-Bonn Interim Administration, Mohaqeq served as a Karzai deputy and minister of planning. Mohaqeq placed third in the presidential ballot with 11.7 percent of the vote. Mohaqeq's party is expected to participate in a powerful opposition bloc in the National Assembly.

Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG)

Mujahideen party active since the Soviet invasion; led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. HiG was famous for its shifting loyalties, and was the favorite party of Pakistan’s ISI until the rise of the Taliban. Former members continue to wield considerable influence. Thus far, HiG has been actively opposed to US-led and Afghan national forces. Hekmatyar is a Kharoti Ghilzai and, therefore, less influential than the much more respected and powerful Khugianis, such as Haji Din Mohammad and Anwarul Haq Mohammad.


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References - Menu

1 Afghan Information Management Services, Kunduz District Profiles, at Link.

2 Civil Military Fusion Center, at Link.

3 Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ministry of Education: School Survey Summary Report, 2007, pg. 34, at Link.

4 MRRD Provincial Development Plan, Kunduz: Provincial Profile, 2007, at Link.

5 Pakistani Government Ministry of Power and Water: Central Asia/South Asia Electricity Trade Conference Report, May 8, 2006, at Link.

6 USAID, Aghanistan: Baghlan Health Facilities Map, June 2005, at Link.

7 UNFAO: Afghanistan River Systems Profile: The Kunduz River System, at Link.

8 The Afghan Network: Ethnic Group Profiles, The Turkish Groups of Afghanistan, at Link.

9 2007 CIA World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, at Link.

10 US State Department Afghanistan Culture and Ethnic Studies, 2004.

11 US State Department Afghanistan Culture and Ethnic Studies, 2004.

12 World Culture Encyclopedia: Africa/Middle East, Pashai, at Link.

13 Afghan Meli Tolena: US and the Warlords in Afghanistan, at Link.

14 Long War Journal, at Link; Afghanistan Analyst, at Link.

15 Al Jazeera, at Link.

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Material contained herein is made available for the purpose of peer review and discussion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.  Most of the content available on this website was updated as of March 2017.